Lou Chiu is a pragmatic optimist. She is also a coach, trainer and consultant who specialises in helping people to do the things they love. In this article, she unpacks the mental barriers to taking time out of work to travel, and presents practical strategies for overcoming them.
There’s just never enough time or resources, right? The barriers to taking time out of your career to travel, or to pursue other things you love, are often the usual suspects…
“I would do this but…”
“It sounds great, but I need to do X first.”
“I would love to, but I should do X…”
As a coach, I hear this type of language all the time. The ‘need tos’, ‘shoulds’, and ‘buts’. I get it, I really do – the reasons why you haven’t already packed up your bag and updated your passport are not at all trivial.
We are all managing a complex system of thoughts, beliefs, experiences and relationships. My work involves helping clients to make sense of that internal and external noise to be able to navigate those tough decisions. It is my mission to help people do the things that they love well.
I’m assuming that you’re reading this because you love the idea of travelling, but have not yet taken the plunge. So let’s have a go at unpicking some of this, using the values that underpin my own practice and my perspective as a pragmatic optimist.
Whether you like it or not, life is complicated, unpredictable and short. At the end of it all, what are the things that you want to celebrate, remember and be proud of? Are you investing right now in the things that help you achieve those future sources of pride and memories?
It might come across as morbid, but your future can be the anchor for the choices you make now. So, give yourself a break, take a breath, and find out what is profoundly important to you.
If I were to ask you to write down all the reasons why you haven’t moved onto the next stage of your career break planning, how many of them are completely non-negotiable? I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy, but is there anything on the list that won’t change or that you can’t affect?
If not, what is it that made you initially believe it to be impossible? My experiences suggests it is an ingrained belief, for example – “if I don’t fully commit to my job, X will think I’m not serious about my career”, “how can I be a good parent if I’m putting my needs first”, “this is something that teenagers do; I don’t belong in that scene”, and so on.
Many of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and usually in more than one area (employee, family, friends, hobbies, etc). Like all good things, they don’t just happen; they are invested in. That is why we study for years, work long hours, travel for hours to see our loved ones, keep practicing that sport, skill, or hobby, and watching Dougie for the 2,000th time before lunch. Phew; no wonder you’re always tired! What about you? What is it that you want, and what brings you joy?
“Daydreaming becomes completely underrated the more we move into adulthood.”
Daydreaming becomes completely underrated the more we move into adulthood. The authority of ‘shoulds’ and ‘need tos’ dampens those seemingly childish ‘wants’, ‘whys’, and ‘what ifs’. We forget that the latter are the guiding questions that result in innovation and original thinking across all fields. In my view, this is all the permission needed to daydream a little more.
What do you daydream about? The old analogy of the rocks, pebbles and sand applies here:
Appreciating that we’re unique individuals, what are your rocks, pebbles and sand? Write them down. Once you’ve done this, what does investment into those rocks look like? If you want A, B is what you can do achieve it.
Make a note of resisting thoughts and put them to one side; you can go back to those later. Right now, you’re allowing yourself to daydream. Visual tools, like the Wheel of Life, can be helpful to work on balancing different rocks (you can email me for a free PDF copy).
Embrace that curiosity and collect your thoughts, ideas and dreams in a way that works for you. That might be a Pinterest board, a visual mood board, a bookmark file on your browser for websites and articles, a notebook for your musings, pictures and ideas, or a spreadsheet full of links and plans. Whatever helps you make sense of it all, and something that you can go back to for inspiration.
“If you have a plan, it’s easier for you to share with someone else who can help you stay accountable.”
With all of this in place now, you already have plenty to put together a plan for putting those rocks into the jar. The list of resisting thoughts you put together earlier (the shoulds, buts and needs tos) can be tested against your plan, with the compassion and curiosity you have been using already.
For A to happen, I will do B though doing C and D. If X happens, I will try E and F.
I appreciate that this seems like a simplistic approach, but it helps on several fronts.
It incorporates your worries and fears into the planning, so it minimises the elements of surprise that might derail your progress.
It identifies milestones. When planning for something over a longer amount of time, we don’t get that immediate pay-off, the dopamine hit that gives us the reward of gratification, and learning that motivates us to carry on. Celebrating those milestones are important because it keeps you going.
If you have a plan, it’s easier for you to share with someone else who can help you stay accountable. That might be with the person you’re travelling with, a mentor, a coach or your best friend. It can also be used to communicate more clearly with your employer or professional stakeholders.
You have a reminder of how to get to where you want to, and what you want to focus on. It’s wonderful ammunition to say no to some of those things that don’t matter as much.
Taking time out: the power of pragmatic optimism
There are so many reasons why we shouldn’t do certain things, like taking a year off work. But we also want to. It almost feels like a calling. The frustration of not being to just pack up and go simmers away, whether we are aware of it or not.
In most cases, it manifests as an unsatisfied longing. In other cases, we might transfer some of that blame or frustration out onto others. It is the easy thing to do when we listen to that internal chatter about why we can’t just do it. It is far more difficult to explore the possibility, and put things into place to make it happen.
But what would it feel like when you’re standing in the exact spot that you’ve always dreamed of standing in? Would it be worth it?
My final thought brings us back full circle to the language we use. Next time you find yourself thinking or saying, “I haven’t…”; “I haven’t been to…”; “I haven’t seen…”; “I haven’t tried…”, finished the sentence with “yet”. Wherever you are right now, even when things are tough, you have so many opportunities that you can take at whatever pace suits you best. You don’t have the time or resources… yet!
Lou set up her mental health blog Ambitious with Anxiety and her coaching practice after taking a eight-month career break for her well-being. Although there wasn’t much travelling involved, she really appreciates having some time to check-in, revisit her own aspirations and see the world from a different perspective. Now, she is writing for her blog, running her own business and studying a Masters, as a recovering workaholic.
Photos in this article are by Jeanette Bolton-Martin.
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